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A-levels and medical schools: where next?

By Ayo Olatunji

In this blog 5th year medical student Ayo shares his tips for aspiring medical students who may have been caught up in the A-level fiasco.


I am sure the last couple of weeks since getting your Ofqual results have been a real roller coaster made more confusing with the government's U-turn. Some of you may have not got the results you wanted. This may make you feel disappointment but please do not despair, everything happens the way it is supposed to and you will get to where you need to be! That’s a guarantee!


Please be sure to double check the information I mention here with the official websites for the aptitude tests and confirm details with your schools, colleges and prospective universities. Information is constantly changing due to COVID-19 so don’t hesitate to call and email university admission offices with questions!


Some of you reading may not have achieved the grades you wanted. Most of you will be doing Chemistry and Biology with another one or two subjects e.g. Maths, Physics or an essay subject. Your grades may have been close to what you needed, or they may have been further off than you would have liked. May God ease your affairs, and may you be granted success.


A calculated or predicted grade may not be representative of your ability so don’t internalise the grade if it’s not what you wanted. Also, remember this grade does not determine your worth or your true potential. Sadly, Ofqual and in some cases certain teachers may have imposed limits on your potential. This is more likely to happen to those of who are not white and/or are from a working-class background. Know that you can actually do it and you deserve better!


Appealing your grades and when to take you’re A-level, BMAT & UCAT exams


If you don’t want to appeal or your appeal isn’t successful, you may want to take your A-levels in Autumn 2020, I believe they will be in early-mid October. Ask yourself if you’ll be ready to sit your A-level exams by then. From what I know taking the exams in the Autumn will qualify you for 2021 medicine entry. There will also be exams in Summer 2021 and reports say that these exams may be one month later than usual e.g. July. These exams should again qualify you for 2021 medicine entry. As I mentioned, please double check this information with your schools and individual medical schools you’re applying to.


The choice then becomes between getting your exams over and done with in Autumn 2020 or waiting until Summer 2021 to do them (if your school and the medical school permits you to wait until then). You need to find out what works for you. If you feel able and ready to take your A-levels in the autumn then go ahead. But many of you will have booked your UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) or will be booking your UCAT for a time that will coincide with your preparation for your A-level autumn 2020 exams.


UCAT registration closes on Thursday 17th September 2020 at 12pm and the final test date will be Thursday 1st October 2020. You get your results instantly so you will have these before the UCAS university application deadline of Thursday 15th October 2020. This will allow you to make more informed choices to apply for 2021 Med school entry.


The BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) final registration deadline is on Thursday 15th October 2020. You have to register through a centre which is usually your school, so remind your teachers about this as you'll need them to help you sign up. The BMAT exam takes place on Wednesday 4th November 2020, there are usually two sittings but there is only one this year. And it has a cost to it - £49. UCAT is £75 if you’re in the UK/EU and £120 if you’re outside the EU. Check their websites to see how exams work this year. I know for sure that UCAT can be done at home (with certain conditions met).


This information is relevant because if you have a choice between taking the Autumn 2020 A-level exams and the Summer 2021 exams and you choose the former, you may have to grapple with BMAT and UCAT revision along with personal statement and UCAS application deadlines.


If you have the choice between Autumn 2020 assessments and Summer 2021 assessments for your A-levels I would go with the Summer 2021 assessment so you can focus on the BMAT/UCAT and personal statement applications through UCAS for September 2021 medicine entry. This also means you can prepare for your A-level assessments with more breathing room.


Information has also come to light that you may need to pay to sit each of your Autumn 2020 exams (I am unsure about costs for Summer 2021 exams). However, different organisations, groups and individuals are working hard to push the government to cover these costs for schools and students, but it is a cost that at this early stage needs to be factored in.


Alternative pathways into medicine when applying


When you apply for medicine you get 4 UCAS choices for medicine plus one choice for another course – so that’s five choices altogether. I would personally say put down Biomedical Science (Biomed) and if you don’t want to do that you can do pharmacy. Biomed courses tend to be similar to the pre-clinical (first 1-2 years) course content of medicine in the UK. This sets you up nicely once you transfer from biomed to medicine after completing the 3-year biomed course, especially if the university you are going to has a graduate medicine transfer pathway. This pathway is often (but not always) more accessible for biomed students. biomed can give you a good basis in understanding the physiology of the human body which is great for medicine.


Pharmacy is another but less conventional 5th choice. It is a 4-year course unlike biomed. Biomed also provides a smoother transition onto graduate medicine courses whereas pharmacy (in my opinion) provides a better option for those who may find themselves not wanting to go through another four or five years in medical education once completing their degrees. In this way pharmacy allows you to keep your options open.


Pharmacy also has a more established and direct career framework for you to enter post degree compared with biomed. In addition, you can do courses such as biology, physiology, biochemistry and other related courses, although they are less conventional than biomed and pharmacy. These other courses are better to do if you enjoy them more and don’t feel attracted to biomed or pharmacy



Finances, funding and graduate students


You will usually get a a four year student loan covering maintenance and tuition fees, although it varies from case to case. As a medical student whether you are a graduate or an undergraduate (no degree or coming straight from school/gap year), year 5 onwards of your tuition fees is covered by the NHS.


A graduate medical degree is usually four years but can be five. Although year 5 will be funded you will most likely have to cover the tuition fees yourself in the years before the NHS funding comes through. You may be eligible for a tuition/maintenance loan in those years of graduate medicine although this is not the norm.This means that perhaps during your undergrad degree you may need to find a job part-time that allows you to save up for tuition fees for graduate medicine. Don't forget to look at the bursary and funds your university has to offer.


Some medical schools do a 6-year course with an intercalated BSc (an extra degree completed in a year) for undergraduate students. The graduate course at a university like would usually be five years long. Other medical schools don’t have a compulsory intercalated BSc and so have a 5-year course for undergraduates and usually a 4-year course for graduates.


Different universities will require one of the BMAT, GAMSAT (graduate medicine aptitude test) and UCAT for graduates. Either of the BMAT or UCAT is required for undergraduates.

The UCAT or BMAT can be expensive to register so if you are on free school meals, on learner support or your parents have job seekers allowance there’s a bursary scheme that can partially or totally cover the costs. Please see the links below with further advice.



Conclusions


Finally, please remember that as demonstrated above there are numerous ways into medicine. I’ve spoken to doctors who took a gap year (or two), those who did another degree and some who even went abroad to do it. And they got through due to determination and God’s grace. Please believe in yourself and keep praying for guidance and success.

Coronavirus may have made things more difficult but your potential and drive will still shine through. Praying for the best for all of you. May God put peace your hearts.

“…Unquestionably Allah’s help is near.” [2:214]



Links and further advices


UCAT

UCAT bursary scheme: https://ucat.ac.uk/ucat/bursary-scheme/…

UCAT dates and fees: https://ucat.ac.uk/ucat/dates-and-fees/…

UCAT universities: https://admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/bmat-november/dates-and-costs/…


BMAT

BMAT dates, fees and bursary scheme: https://admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/bmat-november/dates-and-costs/…

BMAT universities: https://admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/bmat-november/…


GAMSAT

GAMSAT universities: https://gamsat.acer.org/university-admission/admission-uk



Ayo Olatunji is a 5th year medical student at University College London (UCL) and am also the Vice President of Student Affairs at the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). He has taught numerous courses on medical school admissions, creating a good personal statement, how to do well in the BMAT and counselled countless students on these topics and more.


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